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Beautiful Mediterranean Appetizers

At Gourmet Gallery we occasionally offer a “Mediterranean Menu” class in conjunction with MClennan Community CollegeC. MCC’s Karen Hix has taught these classes for us, and she returns this week for a 2-class series on Mediterranean foods. Karen is Lebanese and Scottish. Fortunately for us, her Lebanese mother’s cooking expertise (read Mediterranean) beat out the haggis and blood pudding influence her father brought to the union. Thus we have a Mediterranean Menu cooking class by the Scottish/Lebanese- American, Karen Hix. Boy, are we glad!

Her menu will dig into appetizers and salads, main dishes and desserts. No shortage of flavor in these lessons. Below are a couple of recipes that she WON’T be making, some that we have come to love and rely on for our own appetizers classes, parties, and pot-luck events. They are always hits; so, try them even if they seem a little unusual to you.

Baked Pita Chips
Cut split pita rounds into even triangles with a knife or pizza cutter. Place on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt lightly on top of triangles. Bake at 350° F for about 10 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.

Feta Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper and Pine Nut Dip

6 oz feta cheese ½ c finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ tsp minced garlic Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
4 oz cream cheese at room temperature Pita chips, crackers or crudités for serving
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced


Combine the feta, garlic, sour cream, and cream cheese in a food processor, pulse until the ingredients are just combined. Scrape the feta mixture into a bowl and stir in the red pepper and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, spoon the dip into a serving bowl and scatter the toasted pine nuts on top. Serve with pita chips, crackers or crudités.

Pita Nachos with Hummus and Greek Salsa

1 serrano chile, minced 2 tsp red wine vinegar
½ c diced red onion ½ tsp salt
1 large tomato seeded and diced Pita chips
½ medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced 1 ½ cups hummus*
1 T chopped fresh Mint ½ grated aged mizithra cheese
3 T olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the chile, onion, tomato, cucumber, and mint. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and salt and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Arrange the pita wedges on a large platter. Scatter dollops of hummus on top of the pita chips. Spoon the tomato mixture over them and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve immediately.

*Hummus is a dip made from garbanzo beans, tahini paste (optional), and olive oil. There are lots of great recipes for it, or you can use purchased hummus from just about any grocery store. Karen Hix teaches us how to make hummus (a staple at her house) at her next class.

Dates with Prosciutto and Bleu Cheese
We won “Best Appetizer” at the Waco ISD Education Foundation Cook-off this year with this recipe. It sounds weird, but it’s really fabulous!

24 dates
1 c quality bleu cheese
12 thin slices prosciutto (the best you can find at the market)
Aged, sweet balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut the date in half and remove the pit. Place a teaspoon of bleu cheese in cavity and pack in slightly. Wrap the date with a thin strip of prosciutto, knotting or criss-crossing it on the top of the date. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in the oven until the prosciutto is toasted and the cheese is warm, about 12 minutes.

(These can be assembled two weeks ahead and kept in an airtight container in the freezer. Remove from freezer and bake per above directions.)

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Simple Italian Cuisine

We recently returned from a trip to Tuscany where we ate, prayed, and loved! One of the best evenings we experienced was the farmhouse dinner at Fattoria il Poggio, a working winery, olive orchard, and farmhouse in Montecarlo, Lucca. It was a beautiful evening with fabulous food, wine, and good friends. They made a spelt soup that I could live on. (After I find a regular spelt supplier, I will make it and share the recipe if it’s okay with the folks at the farmhouse.)

Below is a recipe for Tuscan panzanella. According to my Food Lover’s Companion, panzanella is an Italian bread salad made with onions, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings and chunks of bread. . . . According to me, it’s delicious! My non-traditional version has a bit of fresh parmesan shavings on top for taste and garnish. Pair with a Tuscan Pinot Grigio.

Traditionally, this salad is made without the heat of an oven with leftover bread. (The Italians did not/do not throw bread away. They gather it up and use it in soups, salads, whatever works.) You can opt to toast or grill your bread first, but the original is stale bread soaked in a bit of water. I prefer soaking in a little water and olive oil mixed.

1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 2-day old country loaf or ciabatta, thickly sliced and torn into 1-inch pieces
6-7 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 T drained capers
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 hothouse cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ c fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c cold water
¾ c + 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
¼ c red wine vinegar
Shaved parmesan

Mix 1 c cold water and 2 T extra virgin olive oil in a large bowl. Toss torn bread into mixture. Working with a little of the bread at a time, remove excess water by squeezing the pieces gently in your hand. Rub a large salad bowl with the garlic clove. Place the softened bread into the salad bowl. Add tomatoes, drained capers, red onion, cucumbers, and basil to the bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a small bowl, add the vinegar and whisk in olive oil. Drizzle salad with dressing and toss. Chill. Garnish with extra basil and add more dressing before serving.

I would love comments and feedback – and other favorite Italian recipes!

Buon appetito!

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An Impromptu Picnic

(from Picnics I Remember by Jo Ann Orr Miller)

Picnics with Mother’s family were usually by Murvaul Creek, near a pond out in a pasture, at the Angelina River, or by the bay or beach at Galveston. Mother, Nannan (my grandmother), and Aunt Nellye loved to fish. Occasionally we fried the little crappie or sun perch that we caught served up with a big helping of DO NOT SWALLOW A BONE. However, we usually released the fish to allow them grow. Nannan always had her outdoor cooker in the car along with a cast iron skillet and a knife; so, we could eat the catch fresh from the water.

We were coming back from visiting Aunt Nellye in Houston, and Nannan decided that we’d stop at the roadside park at the river and have fried chicken. (Eating at a café was not much of an option in the late ‘30s and early 40s’.) She bought a fryer and some Mrs. Tucker’s lard in Lufkin. We had everything we needed along with a growing appetite—except some flour. Always equal to any occasion she stopped at a farmhouse on US HWY 59, knocked on the door, and came back with a cup of flour!

I don’t remember what else we had to eat. I just remember vividly the “neighbor” we didn’t know who enabled us to have our picnic “down by the riverside.”


Catch chicken. Wring neck. Put under a bucket until it stops flopping around.

Dip in scalding water. Pluck feathers. Hold over A flame to “swinge” it (a word Nannan coined for “singe to remove hairs”).

Cut open abdomen and remove all inner parts. Be very careful in getting the liver for the bile duct is very close to it. The bile is bitter. Cut open gizzard and remove the lining along with the small rocks inside. (This is the place the chicken “chews” its food.)

Cut into desired pieces. Be sure you have a pulley bone*. Place in salted water to allow it to absorb the salt.

Heat enough lard to half-cover the chicken. Pepper chicken, dip in flour. Fry until golden brown on one side. Turn and fry until golden brown on other side and until juices run clear.**

Drain grease leaving enough for some gravy—about 4 tablespoon—add 4 tablespoons making a light roux. Be sure to scrape crusty pieces from the bottom of the skillet. Slowly add water until gravy is the desired thickness . Salt and pepper to taste. If you have a lot of company, make a lot of gravy.
Enjoy with some buttermilk biscuits.

*Known in some circles as the wishbone.
**According to the Health Department, chicken should be cooked to 165°F.

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Remembering Dad
By Jo Ann Miller

My father was born in 1901, the oldest son of ten children. He was the family patriarch from about age 30. He worked hard, never worried about weight, blood pressure or cholesterol and died at 97. All this made me start thinking about what he ate. Living on an East Texas farm he ate fresh vegetables (hot peppers and peas, etc) and fruits, pork and chicken, cornbread and biscuits–and dessert–lots of desserts. His favorites were the following:
• Pies–hot and cold—specifically sweet potato, chocolate, or pecan made with ribbon cane syrup, pecan made any other way, coconut cream, buttermilk, any other pie available. He really wasn’t terribly particular.
• Ice Cream–homemade or purchased.
• Cakes-fruit cakes and any other kind.
• Syrup on anything.
• Cobblers–Peach and Dewberry, Mixed Berry or Blackberry when fruits were available in the summer. Sweet potato in the fall in winter along with Raisin Roll. This recipe came from Mother’s family and is literally an “old family recipe.” I never saw a written recipe, but I have watched Mother make it many times. I think this is accurate enough to share.

Aunt Essie Dennard’s Raisin Roll

Heat oven to 400F. Grease a 9″X 9″ cake pan. If using a glass baking dish, lower temperature to 375F.

1 1/2 cups raisins–dark or white. Reserve about 1/4 cup after heating.
2 1/2 cups water. Reserve liquid after heating with raisins
Put water and raisins into a saucepan and heat until raisins have plumped. Drain, saving the liquid.

1 cup whipping cream, whipped until moderately stiff. Set aside.

Make pastry dough by mixing
2 cups all-purpose
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Crisco shortening
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small cubes
6-8 tablespoons ice water
Cut shortening and butter into flour leaving some particles small and some a little larger. (The dough should have different sizes of particles so that the crust will be flaky.) Add water 1 Tablespoon at a time and mix making the dough stiff as possible, but it should stick together. Divide into two parts and chill for about 10 minutes.

Roll each half into approximately a 9″ X 12″ rectangle Spread 1/2 of the raisins on the up to about 1 inch of the edge of the crust; spread 1/2 whipped cream over the raisins.

1-1 1 /2 cups sugar

Sprinkle 1/2 of the sugar over each roll. Gently roll, pinching the edges and tucking the ends to keep it all together. Carefully place rolls side by side in the pan and place in preheated oven.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

While the pie bakes, heat the retained liquid and raisins and add 1/2 cup sugar. When the pastry is browned to your liking, pour the hot liquid mixture over the rolls and return to oven. Turn off oven and let the syrup mixture sit for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cook, if you can possibly wait that long.

Food and fathers seem to go together. What was your dad’s favorite? Please share the recipe is it isn’t too much of a “family secret.”

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Nothing Sweeter than a Little Tart

Yesterday, Le Cordon Bleu trained Chef Megan Lasiter conducted a fun pre-Easter class for us, “Nothing Sweeter than a Little Tart.” What a refreshing breath of air for Spring! Although her recipes are tried and true, she added just a bit of pinache to keep her audience interested. Among her recipes in this demostration class were pate sucre ( translates, “sugar paste” but is actually a slightly sweetened pastry tart), whiskey pecan tart, lemon meringue tart with Italian meringue, pastry cream for fruit tarts, and good ‘ole fruit cobbler.

All of the recipes were hits with the class, but the whiskey pecan took the cake – or the pie – in my opinion. Maybe it’s the Southern Girl in me. Perfect with a cup of coffee. The fruit tart, however, was the most beautiful of all. A sip of champagne really completes it.

Below is her pate sucre recipe as well as the pastry cream recipe. Topping this with colorful fresh berries makes a lovely Spring presentation. Please see our Facebook page for pictures.

Happy Cooking!

Pate Sucre

(Gourmet Gallery Chef, Rachel Solano says that this pastry is a bit more forgiving than a traditional pie crust. Don’t use it for your chicken pot pie, though!)

7.5 ounces unsalted butter
3 ounces sugar
.06 ounces salt
3 ounces eggs
12 ounces pastry flour

Baking Temperature 375 degrees.

1. Cream butter and sugar.
2. Add eggs.
3. Add flour, salt and vanilla.
4. Roll out on floured surface to desired thickness.
5. Place into pie plate or tart pan and press into edges.
6. Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned.

Pastry Cream
1 quart milk
4 ounces sugar
3 ounces egg yolks
4 ounces whole eggs
2.5 ounces corn starch
4 ounces sugar
2 ounces butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Mix milk and first sugar.
2. Bring to a scald in a medium saucepan.
3. While milk is cooking, mix the following: eggs, egg yolks, second surgar, and conrstarch.
4. Temper milk into egg mixture.
5. Add whole mixture back into saucepan.
6. Whisk until thickened to desired consistency.
7. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla.

Spoon into tart shell (pate sucre). Top with fruit or enjoy by itself.

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Cold Weather Warm Soup

Once in awhile I run across a dish or a recipe that creates calm out of chaos. I guess this is what “comfort food” really is. Our chef, Rachel Solano, introduced me to Thai Cocanut Chicken Soup, a fabulous soup recipe that may rival Grandmom’s Chicken Soup. Here it is. Thanks, Rachel!

Check out our website at We post new recipes regularly.

Happy Cooking!

Karyn Miller
Gourmet Gallery

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

This Thai soup is so delicious and unique, you may find yourself replacing your old chicken noodle soup!

Serves: 6 -8 Time: 40 – 45 minutes

2 T Vegetable oil
2 T Grated Fresh Ginger (or Gourmet Garden’s her b blend in 4 oz tube)
2 T Fresh Lemongrass (or Gourmet Garden’s herb blend in 4 oz tube)
3 T Red Curry Paste
1 ½ T Fish Sauce
1 ½ T Soy Sauce
2 T Sriracha Chili Sauce
6 c Chicken Broth
1 T Light Brown Sugar
2 14 oz Cans Coconut Milk
1 lb Chicken Breasts, cut in 1 inch cubes
¼ – ½ lb Sliced White Mushrooms
4 T Fresh Lime Juice
Salt to taste
Large Handful of Fresh Cilantro Leaves

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat.
Add ginger, lemongrass, chili sauce, and curry; cook for 1 minute.
Add about a cup of chicken broth to dissolve curry mixture.
Add the remaining broth, fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar and simmer for 10 min.
Add the coconut milk, chicken, and mushrooms and simmer 5 – 10 min to cook the chicken.
Finally, stir in the lime juice and add salt if necessary.
Serve over steamed white rice and a few tablespoons of the cilantro.